Many people appreciate the mystic and beauty of exotic animals such as reptiles, amphibians, birds or mammals of non-native species or individuals of native species that have been raised in captivity. They succumb to the temptation of purchasing critters, reptiles, amphibians and other exotic animals, often on impulse. Too often little thought is put into the care and commitment necessary to properly provide for these animals. Parents frequently purchase the animals as learning aids or entertainment for their children who are far too young to be responsible.

Rabbits are small mammals found naturally in several parts of the world. Rabbit habitats include woods, meadows, grasslands, deserts and wetlands. These intelligent, social animals live in groups, and the best known species, the European rabbit, lives in underground burrows, or rabbit holes. Rabbits are crepuscular, most active at dawn and dusk. Rabbits are herbivores who feed on grass, nuts and berries, vegetables and fruit. They dig burrows to hide and store food. Their large ears allow them to easily detect predators.


Guinea pigs, or cavies, are found naturally in the Andes mountains in South America. They were domesticated in South America around 5,000 BC and used as a source of food. The domestic guinea pig is a subspecies of the Andes guinea pig and therefore cannot be found in the wild. Guinea pigs are small, furry herbivores that can live 7 years or more. They communicate with high pitched squeals. Wild guinea pigs eat grass and small plant matter. They also supplement their diet by eating their feces, soft pellets that offer vital nutrients.


Iguanas are native to the jungles of the Caribbean and central and South America. Green iguanas are forest lizards who live high in the South American rainforest tree canopy. Young iguanas live lower in the canopies, while older adults reside higher up in the tree tops. Iguanas bask in the sun, with little need to visit the forest floor below other than when female iguanas lay their eggs. The green and brown scales of iguanas allow them to blend extremely effectively into the surrounding forest. Iguanas will remain extremely still, going unnoticed, until predators pass by.


The domestic ferret is believed to be native to Europe, a subspecies of the polecat. They were domesticated about 2,500 years ago to help farmers hunt rabbits by crawling into rabbit burrows and scaring the rabbits out of their holes. In the wild, ferrets feed mainly on mice, small rabbits and small birds. Most ferrets sleep 18 hours a day, about six hours at a time in between playing and eating for about an hour. They are often most active at dusk and dawn.


Birds' instinctive yearning to fly is thwarted when they are confined to a cage. Even in a large aviary, it is virtually impossible to provide birds in captivity with a natural existence, since naturally changing temperatures, food, vegetation, and landscape cannot be recreated indoors, nor, of course, can the birds fly freely. As a result of the horrific travelling conditions they are forced to endure, many birds captured in the wild die long before arriving at their destination.


Fragile tropical fish, born to dwell in the majestic seas and forage among brilliantly colored coral reefs, suffer miserably when forced to spend their lives enclosed in glass aquariums. Robbed of their natural habitat, denied the space to roam, they must swim and reswim the same empty cubic inches. The popularity of keeping tropical fish has created a virtually unregulated industry based on catching and breeding as many fish as possible, with little regard for the fish themselves.


Snakes are elongated, limbless and flexible reptiles. They are found on every continent of the world except Antarctica. There are over 3,000 different known species of snake. Around 375 species are venomous. Python reticulates are the largest species, reaching over 28 feet in length. Snakes are carnivores (meat eaters). They feed on a variety of prey including rodents, termites, birds, frogs, reptiles and even small deer. They cannot chew, so they must swallow prey whole. Their flexible jaws allow them to eat prey bigger than their heads, and their unique anatomy allows them to digest large prey.


Turtles are reptiles with hard shells that protect them like a shield. Their upper shells are called a ‘carapace’. Their lower shells are called ‘plastron’. The shell is made up of 60 different bones all connected together. Many turtle species are able to hide their heads inside their shells when attacked by predators. Their hard shells enable them to live without fast reflexes and elaborate predator avoidance strategies. Turtles are highly intelligent and social animals. They sometimes switch between monogamy and promiscuity in their sexual behavior.


Geckos are small to medium sized lizards naturally found in temperate and tropical regions. They are more commonly found around the Equator and in the Southern Hemisphere. Some species also live north of the Equator in warmer regions. They live in a wide variety of habitats including jungles, rocky deserts, rainforests, mountains, grasslands and even urban areas. There are over 2,000 known different species of gecko found in a wide variety of colors and markings.


Rats are found naturally throughout the world. They originated in Asia and migrated around the globe as accidental passengers on human voyages. They are one of the most widely spread and adaptable animals on the planet. The two most common species are the black rat and the brown rat. They are generally much larger than mice. Rats usually live in small, dark places. They are scavenger animals and omnivores, feeding on plant and animal matter.


Mice are small rodents found naturally in nearly every part of the world, including parts of Antarctica. There are around 40 different species of mouse, ranging in color and size dependent on their environment. Mice are often thought of as pests because they can damage crops and spread diseases through their parasites and feces. But, they are an important part of the ecosystem, including as a source of food for small mammals, reptiles and birds.


Gerbils are small rodents, similar in many ways to hamsters and mice. They are naturally found in the sandy plains of the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Originally known as desert rats, they were commercially introduced to North America and bred as “pets”. Gerbils have long tails that they are able to shed, allowing them to escape predators. Their tails also help them balance when standing on their hind legs.


Hamsters were found in Syria in 1839 and have been held captive as “pets” and test subjects since the 1940s. They are believed to have originated in the deserts of east Asia. They inhabit semi-desert regions around the globe where soft ground allows burrowing. In the wild, these nocturnal animals spend most of their evening digging and foraging for food. During the heat of the day they live in underground burrows, consisting of numerous tunnels and chambers with separate eating and sleeping rooms.


Exotic animals - lions, tigers, wolves, bears, reptiles, non-human primates - belong in their natural habitat and not in the hands of private individuals as "pets." By their very nature, these animals are wild and potentially dangerous and, as such, do not adjust well to a captive environment. Because the majority of states do not keep accurate records of exotic animals entering their state, it is impossible to determine exactly how many exotic animals are privately held as pets. The number is estimated to be quite high. Certainly 6,000 to 7,000 tigers are held by private individuals.


Make the humane choice this Easter and refrain from acquiring live chicks and rabbits as gifts. Instead of giving live animals as presents, give children plush toys. Thousands of rabbits, chicks and ducklings are purchased each year as whimsical gifts, only to be abandoned a few weeks later when the reality of their complex needs are realized. Many die quick deaths after being "set free." Others are dumped at shelters. 80 percent of shelter rabbits are abandoned Easter gifts. Most are euthanized.